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How to take on a charging elephant

A ZAMBIAN wildlife guide who stood in front of an aggressive elephant and commanded it to “get back” has been widely praised by the British school pupils he protected.
Footage of Manny Mvula taking on the elephant which was threatening to charge at the group he was leading has recently been uploaded on to YouTube.
“My instinct was to run away but Manny’s calming and authoritative presence reassured me – we figured he knew what he was doing,” a pupil from a secondary school in England told the BBC.
“But for Manny’s heroism, we could have had a memorable encounter with this gigantic beast in more ways than one.”
However, Mr Mvula says that his defence of the pupils was all in the line of duty.
“I realised I had to do something to stop it because they were in imminent danger,” he told the BBC.
The unusual stand-off happened at the Kasanka National Park in Serenje in Zambia’s Central Province in August when Mr Mvula and a group of 23 schoolboys aged between 16 and 17 spotted a group of female elephants with their young in the bush.
After viewing the elephants for some time, Mr Mvula, 46, and his party set up camp at a designated spot once the elephants had moved on.
But they did not know that a bull elephant was trailing in the wake of the female elephants until it appeared a few minutes later.
It weighed an estimated five tonnes and was in the prime of its life at about 40 years old.
At first it seemed that it, too ,was moving on, but suddenly it turned and stared at Mr Mvula and his party.
The trained guide knew immediately that it posed a danger because he could see fluids coming out of its temporal glands which were running down its cheeks – a sure sign that the bull elephant was in a state of heightened sexual activity called musth.
“When they are in this condition, they are liable to charge at anything that gets in their way,” Mr Mvula said, “especially if it is something or somebody that they are not certain about.”
“I know that standing in front of it and telling it to go away is not an officially recognised procedure for dealing with this kind of a situation,” he said.
“But I knew instinctively that it was worth a try even if there was no guarantee that it would work.
“I have seen such a technique successfully used by two other guides and have done it myself twice previously in such emergency situations.”
The guide’s remonstrating tone led to the elephant stopping in its tracks. After a moment’s pause, it opted to make a strategic retreat.
“Obviously it was a huge relief,” he said. “Such an incident is highly unusual in this part of Zambia.”
Mr Mvula – who with his wife runs a responsible tourism company from their home in the English county of Kent – has for many years led safaris in his home country of Zambia.
As a professional safari guide, Mr Mvula said he had learnt to always have a second plan if the first one does not work.
“But in this case I didn’t have many other options – the only thing I could have done if it didn’t back off would have been to order the boys slowly to walk back to the truck – parked about 10 metres away – while I would run towards it while swerving in between the trees and swinging my arms wildly to distract its attention solely towards me.”
The guide said that in the worst case scenario, the elephant could have charged at the teenagers, even though he remained confident that he could handle the situation successfully.
“That is the importance of always using fully trained safari guides, who understand animal behaviour,” he said.
“Looking back on what I did, I guess you can say it was a bit of a stupid thing to do,” Mr Mvula said.
“It took me three weeks to pluck up the courage and tell my wife what happened.”- BBC